LIU JIANHUA, A Blank Paper, 2009, ceramic, 112.1 x  57.4  x  2.7 cm. Courtesy Pace London. 


Liu Jianhua

Pace London
China UK

Liu Jianhua has always placed an importance on the spiritual and perceptual experiences of the viewer—and nowhere is this more fundamental than in “Between,” his show coinciding with the 18th installment of Asian Art, an annual ten-day event in London showcasing Asian artists and galleries. Four works are on display at Pace London’s upper gallery, where a different work each occupies a single side, creating a curious harmony upon entry. Liu, who has previously participated in numerous major group exhibitions, as well as the 2003 and 2013 Venice Biennale, presents an abstract experience, handing his viewers the reigns to freely explore his installations, and to contemplate anything and everything in between.

The four works presented at Pace are all created with porcelain, a medium with which Liu is now inextricably associated. His affinity and connection with the medium is perhaps unsurprising, given Liu’s 14 years of training, first at a porcelain sculpture studio in Jingdezhen—the town in eastern China that is synonymous with the golden age of Chinese ceramics and the pinnacle of porcelain production—and then at Jingdezhen Pottery & Porcelain College. By embracing a medium so embedded in his culture’s history, Liu is undeniably questioning the relationship that he and indeed any contemporary Chinese artist has with their heritage.

A work from the artist’s “Blank Paper” series (2009–12) is included in the exhibition. The piece itself is meant to look, upon first glance, like a blank sheet of paper. However, viewers soon recognizes, from teh work’s subtly coiling corners, that one must not be so easily led to conclusions from perceived simplicity. The realization that things are not what they seem—the paper is actually a fragile Blanc de Chine sheet—pervades the exhibition space, with a delicate sense of the surreal.

Installation view of Liu Jianhua’s “Between” at Pace London, 2015. Courtesy Pace London. 

Through works like “Blank Paper,” Liu encourages viewers to project their individual ideas onto his pieces and let their own thoughts inform their responses. In his work Fallen Leaves (2012), Liu has transformed 1,500 leaves into individual terracotta-colored porcelain pieces, thereby leaving one to reconsider the meaning of mundane objects, once they have been freed from their purported function. Another piece on display is Traces (2011), which was first presented in his 2011 solo exhibition, “Liu Jianhua: Screaming Walls,” at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing. As part of the work, glistening black porcelain strands drizzle down the white walls of the gallery. The sculptural forms simulate wulouhen (屋漏痕), a type of Chinese calligraphic stroke that likens the trailing of ink to rainwater trickling through the crevices of dilapidated walls.

The most pointed exploration between past and present is in an untitled work from 2012: a suite of eight (the number that in itself is auspicious) ceramic disks are mounted on the wall, joined together by an unbroken horizontal line running through them. The exquisite ruyao—a glaze that is described as the color of the sky after it rains—of the ceramic echoes the unparalleled taste and craftsmanship of the Song dynasty, and the continuous horizontal line aptly captures Liu’s ambitious endeavour to create a link from the past to the present. In his statement about the show, Liu clearly conveys his concern with interconnectivity: “The title of the exhibition is meant to express the abstract relationships between the works, the space and the viewers, and between tradition and modernity.” Indeed, “Between” successfully weaves visitors into Liu’s web of creation and allows one to ponder and challenge our own perceptions. Nothing is left out, and everything is in a state of being in between.

LIU JIANHUA, Leaves, 2013, porcelain, dimensions variable. Courtesy Pace London. 

LIU JIANHUAUntitled 2012, 2012, porcelain, dimensions variable. Courtesy Pace London. 

Liu Jianhua’s “Between” is on view at Pace London until December 23, 2015.